In fact, despite the numerous modern touches (data banks, computer hacking, cellphone taps and the oh-so-modern nods to her ambiguous sexuality), Kalinda is in many ways a throwback to the genre's roots.
As played by Archie (Bend It like Beckham) Panjabi, she presented a tightly wound professionalism rarely seen in the genre these days, never mind on mainstream television. The leather she sported was not the skin-clinging stuff of adolescent centerfold fantasy (although she certainly wore it well) -- rather, she wore it like armor; a thick shell to keep the world at bay.
Her antecedents weren't nice guys like Jim Rockford or Thomas Magnum -- nope, her roots went back much further, back to a time when private eyes weren't automatically expected to be warm and cuddly.
Professionally she wasn't just cold -- she was Hammett-cold, hard and brassy when she had to be. Hell, the way she dispassionately worked her cases, facing down her enemies without flinching and standing up to violence, she could be The Continental Op's illegitimate daughter.
But she wasn't a one-note character, either.
A shrewd and clever investigator, she'd do whatever and go wherever it tooks (from dumpster diving to infiltrating high school locker rooms to, yes, sleeping with someone to pry information from them) to get what she wanted, she's a breath of fresh air and surprising complexity and moral ambiguity in a genre that too often treats even major characters as shallow stick figures whose entire essence is delineated by the first commercial break.
The more we're told about Kalinda, it turns out, the less we actually know.
Like much of the show, it's not just her loyalty, ethics, allegiances and motives that are ultimately shaded in ambivalence -- her personal life is also somewhere in the "don't ask, don't tell" area.
Is she a dispassionate hard ass who only lives for the job? Or an anything-goes party girl? Is she a lesbian? Bisexual? Straight as a crooked arrow? Asexual?
During her six years on the show, it was always hard to tell to get a hold on Kalinda --how much was really her and how much was simply a convenient persona to slip into.
But it was that frostiness, coupled with the murkiness of her background and her hard-boiled professionalism that kept me coming back. In the first season, it was revealed that she used to work for Peter, but she seemed willing to sell him out to his poltical enemies. Or was she?
In the second season, however, Kalinda really came into her own, even as the veneer of her personal life oh-so-slowly started to slip. A merger brought Blake (Scott Porter), a professional rival, into the firm, but it was instantly obvious these two were not going to get along, either personally or professionally. And matters were exacerbated when Blake began to taunt Kalinda, dropping hints that he knew all about her past.
Suffice it to say she didn't take it well. Given her buttoned-down aloofness, Kalinda's hands-on attack on Blake's unprotected car with a aluminium baseball bat is shocking and unsettling. But even giving into rage she's still enough of a hard-ass to challenge a witness who stumbles her impulsive act of vandalism in the deserted parking garage. "What the hell are you looking at?" she demands of the awestruck citizen. "Call the police!"
And then, as the citizen scurries off to alert the authorites, she continues to destroy the car.
Now that's cold.
Later on that season an old lover, Donna (brilliantly played by Lili Tyler), also shows up, with an unspecified axe to grind, although it has something to do with Kalinda not being "domestic" enough -- whatever that means.
Alas, in the last few years of her run on the show, Kalinda's screen time was severely reduced, and she became just another great character in a show full of them.
The last few years were particularly disappointing, but even then, Kalinda was always absolutely riveting to watch, the held-in-check ambivalence and ambiguity a facet of her evolving character; not a cookie cutter substitute for actual depth.
Imagine! An old fashioned gumshoe, actually working cases on behalf of a client. No ghostly visitors providing convenient clues, no psychic baloney, no CSI voodoo, no burned spies, no OC cases, no human lie detectors, no personal agendas on every single case just a hard-boiled dick who gets hired to investigate and actually works cases.
How long has it been since we've seen THAT?
Her much trumpeted farewell, with Kalinda betrays a violent drug dealer in an attempt to protect her friends, ends with her facing off against the dealer's slimy toad of a lawyer, who realizes what a ruthless piece of work she is. He asks her, almost in desperation -- his own days may be numbered -- if she's consider teaming up with him.
"No, I'm good," she says, her last lines of a six year run.
No, she was great.
* * * * *
The creators of the show, Robert King and Michelle King, write together and have been married since 1987.
"When you pick up a gun, you shoot to kill. Or you don't pick up a gun at all."
Kalinda: You can't ask me and I can't tell you but don't conclude from what I'm saying it's what you think. Alicia: Okay. Can you be any more specific?
"My marriage is none of your F***ING business!"
-- Peter takes a stand during a press conference.
Alicia: "You sound sarcastic." Kalinda: "No, that was me being genuine."
"Just like Bogie -- and just like Bacall: that's the secret of Kalinda Sharma. She's a mash-up of film noir archetypes (and gender roles), both gumshoe and femme fatale, tough broad and heartbroken sap. The knee-high leather boots get the attention, but it's the luminous brown eyes, always alert, that tell the story. Panjabi takes a genre cliche -- the combination of hard shell and tender interior -- and redeems it by maintaining a constant but perfectly poised intensity, one whose tight control only emphasizes its operatic force. She provides a crucial emotional counterweight to Julianna Margulies's equally powerful performance as Alicia Florrick, the good and mad wife. Kalinda smolders so that Alicia can burn."
-- Mike Hale, The New York Times Magazine, September 18, 2011
"Next time someone tells you that only cable can make smart, adult drama successfully, point them here... going into its second season, it's become so much more: a political thriller, a family drama and a darn good case-of-the-week courtroom show. In each storyline, The Good Wife displays a moral complexity that most big-network drama has given up on, asking what ethical tradeoffs are justifiable for legal success, political gain and personal happiness."
--Time Magazine, on choosing The Good Wife as one of its "Top 10 TV Shows" for 2010.
THE GOOD WIFE
(1949, United Artists) Created by Michelle King and Richard King Writers: Michelle King, Richard King Starring Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florrick With Chris Noth as Peter Florrick
Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart
Josh Charles as Will Gardner
Matt Czuchry as Cary Agos Alan Cumming as Eli Gold
and Archie Panjabi as KALINDA SHARMA Also starring Lili Taylor, Scott Porter, Michael J. Fox, Lou Dobbs, Gary Cole